The 5 Things You Must Know When Building Words

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Created by Sara Dorken

Kids love big words, they just do! Let’s face it, it’s way more fun to learn about a word like <herbivore> than it is to learn about <cat> or <it>.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s important, no, essential to be able to decode smaller words. In fact, the whole first module of our reading and spelling program is dedicated to decoding and encoding smaller (monosyllabic) words. But what if your child or student wants to tackle some bigger (polysyllabic) words? Well, don’t fret! Here are 5 essential things you can teach them that will help them with reading, spelling and understanding polysyllabic words!

*Side note: don’t try to tackle these all at once! Use example words to talk about and illustrate each of these points! Real understanding takes time and repetition, don’t try to rush it!*

  1. What is the base? A base is an element of language that holds the most meaning. As an example, in the word <playing> the base is <play>. When you know what base you’re working with, adding suffixes – and knowing what changes to make (or not to make) – becomes a whole lot simpler.

 

  1. Does your suffix start with a vowel? A suffix is an element of language that fixes (attaches) itself to bases or other suffixes. Going back to the example of <playing>, <play> is the base and <-ing> is the suffix. Suffixes that begin with a vowel often cause changes to the base word when added. If your suffix begins with a consonant then go ahead and just add that suffix without changing the base word. If your suffix begins with a vowel then you have a bit more work to do! Check the items below!

 

  1. Does your base word end with a <y>? If your suffix begins with a vowel and your base word ends in <y> then you need to change the <y> to an <i>. You do this ALMOST all the time. UNLESS:
    1. Changing the <y> to <i> would result in <ii>;
    2. The base word ends in <vowel-y> (example: <oy>, <ey>, <ay>, etc.);
    3. You are creating a compound word (2 stand alone words together, example: babysit, flyaway).

*If any of these 3 cases apply then keep the <y> and add the suffix!

 

  1. Does your base word end with an <e>? If your suffix begins with a vowel and your base word ends with <e> you need to replace the final, single, non-syllabic <e> with the suffix (remove the <e> and add the suffix). There are some words where we need to keep the <e> (<noticeable>, <courageous>, <manageable>, etc.) for various reasons. Can you think of the reasons why we would keep the <e> in those words? What would happen if we removed the <e> in those words? Hint: think about pronunciation.

 

  1. Does your base word end with a single consonant, preceded by a single vowel? If your suffix begins with a vowel and your base word ends with a single consonant, with a single vowel right before it (example: <cap> or <rib>) then you need to double the single final consonant before adding the suffix (example: <cap> + <-ing> –> <capping>, <rib> + <-ed> –><ribbed>). This is in a monosyllabic word. If you have a polysyllabic word, see below!

a) Is your base word polysyllabic?

This is a little bit more complicated because it deals with something we call “stress”. English is a stress-timed language which means that the emphasis we place on different word parts changes as we add affixes to the word. If it didn’t we would sound like robots when we talked!

 When to double:

If you have a base word that ends with a single consonant, with a single vowel right before it and the stress falls on the word part that comes right before the suffix then you need to double the single final consonant before adding the suffix.

Example:

<recap> + <-ed> –> <recapped> OR <unclip> + <-ing> –><unclipping>

 When NOT to double:

If the stress does not fall on the word part that comes right before the suffix, you do not double the final consonant.

Example:  <legal> + <-ity> –> <legality>

If your base ends with <w> or <x> you do not double the final consonant. Why? Because we never have a <ww> or <xx> in English!

Being able to find the stress in a word sometimes takes practice, make sure that you use the word in a sentence and do your best not to over-pronounce the word. Try yelling it in a sentence, “You need to UNCLIP your helmet before taking it off!” the syllable that is stressed will sound louder when you yell it. You can even try to switch the stress, in the word <legal> try to say it with the stress on the <gal>. You’ll end up saying a word that doesn’t quite sound right.

Knowing the points above will definitely help your child or student when it comes to making decisions about what to do when adding suffixes. It might even help you too, I know it helped me! As it turns out, English spelling actually makes sense.

Sara can be followed on Twitter: @SaraDorken

 

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